Staff Review: "Ben is Back"
It’s Christmas Eve in upstate New York, and the last thing Holly (Julia Roberts) expects to see is her son, Ben (Lucas Hedges). Why? Because for the past several months, Ben has been to rehab and then gone to live in a sober living house as he battles an opioid addiction. Though she’s ecstatic to see Ben, Holly is also skeptical, wondering if he is well enough to stay for the holiday or if he will relapse. Even more distrusting are Ben’s older sister, Ivy (Kathryn Newton) and stepdad (Courtney B. Vance), who have been lied to and conned by Ben more times than they can count.
In order to ensure Ben stays sober, Holly demands they spend the day together, which includes shopping at the mall, attending a Narcotics Anonymous meeting and attending Christmas Eve service at church. Each place holds different temptations and painful memories for Ben, and when the family returns home to find their house burglarized and that the family dog has been kidnapped, Ben realizes he must confront the past he is struggling so hard to put behind him.
Ben is Back is devastating on so many levels, which is a compliment to the filmmakers. Roberts does an amazing job at portraying Holly with a rich desperation so real that the viewer can almost feel how badly she wants Ben to remain sober. Likewise, Hedges does a wonderful job conveying the constant internal battle a recovering addict goes through – the determination to stay clean versus the temptation to throw it all away for one more high. While not a perfect movie, Ben is Back is masterful at tugging at several of your emotions and making you feel sad, hopeful, frustrated and anxious, often all at once.